It’s official the great resignation is upon us, but you don’t need me to tell you this. Newspapers, blogs, political pundits, and your own life experiences tell the story of the masses of employees who are collectively refusing the low-wages, absent benefits, and dangerous working conditions expected by companies and bosses nationwide. As many of you know, we as pastors and clergy are not immune. Recent poll data collected by the Barna Group suggest that about 38 percent of Protestant senior pastors surveyed considered leaving ministry over the past year. That number rising to 46 percent for younger pastors and clergy. Many of us have resigned ourselves to the political fractures within our congregations, unsustainable financial models, cultural shifts in congregational expectations of pastors, a heightened sense of nostalgia and any number of other issues. Be clear I am not minimizing or making light of the very real and weighty issues that we as clergy find ourselves navigating oftentimes without strong denominational support and community engagement.
According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary resignation is both “an act or instance of resigning something: SURRENDER and the quality or state of being resigned: SUBMISSIVENESS”. Whether we decide to remain in ministry in our current role or to seek another, we must all spend time living this tension between surrender and submissiveness. As I contemplate this tension I wonder if perhaps a resilient response might be to consider not just what we are resigning from but what we are resigning ourselves to. In other words, being resilient requires us to be just as clear about what we submit ourselves to as we are about what we want to surrender.
Full disclosure, as I write this post I, along with my husband and co-pastor, are preparing for our congregations last Sunday in the place we have called home for the past eight years. There is no question in my mind that this move is necessary, the best decision for our congregation, and most importantly God’s will. We’ve been looking for a new space since before the pandemic and put off the inevitable last year hoping that “post pandemic” a new home would avail itself, but it hasn’t. Due to the generosity of another pastor and congregation, we have found a temporary place to land for which we are eternally grateful. However, it is an uneasy gratitude haunted by the question, where do we go from here? We have resigned our claim on the space that was ours and surrendered ourselves to the risking reality of an unknown future, but resilience requires us to answer the question: what are we resigning ourselves to at this moment? Are we resigning ourselves to finding another building, a better location, somewhere to call our own? Or are we resigning ourselves to follow God’s leading into whatever space, place and form God is leading us to?
Suddenly the Advent themes of light breaking into darkness, hope piercing despair, and Jesus’ humble birth into a chaotic and desperate world have new resonance and meaning. We are reminded of just how messy, unpredictable, disquieting, and anxiety inducing, risking faithfully can be. This reality doesn’t look like any of the other seasons of ministry that we or our church have encountered and yet they are perhaps some of the fullest expressions of our trust in God and our witness in the world. Despite thoughts and emotions swinging wildly between sadness and anticipation, grief and excitement, mourning and curiosity, we are perhaps the closest we’ve ever been to the way Mary must’ve felt and thought as she resigned herself to a fate she didn’t choose, nor fully understand.
When she declares boldly, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word”, she speaks not of her dashed hopes, expectations and fears but of her resignation to her unborn child, Jesus. I submit that perhaps the most resilient thing we can do in this season is resigning ourselves to that prophetic, counter cultural, liberating, healing, justice bringing, Divine presence embodying Jesus despite all the situations and circumstances we might want to resign ourselves from.
Imagine the power and influence our great resignation would have if we resigned ourselves to Jesus and Jesus alone.
Or, in the words of the Beatles:
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be